Defending theHuman Rightto a Fair Trial
February 23, 2017
Catherine led Fair Trials’ policy and campaigns work from 2008 to 2012 and now directs the World Prison Research Programme at the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), at Birkbeck, University of London. ICPR hosts the World Prison Brief.
Today sees the launch of the third World Pre-trial/Remand Imprisonment List. The List provides comprehensive data on pre-trial/remand prisoner populations, as at the end of November 2016, for 216 countries and dependent territories across the world. It shows that at least two and a half million prisoners are detained pre-trial. But taking account of those not reported in official data, or from the ten countries where no official data are published, the worldwide total is likely to be close to three million.
What are the main trends since 2000? Numbers of pre-trial/remand prisoners have grown rapidly in the Americas (up by 60%) and Asia (34%). In Oceania, the continent whose overall prisoner population has grown more than any other’s since 2000, the pre-trial population has also grown – by an extraordinary 175%. Africa has seen a far more modest rise (of 5%, if Rwandan figures are excluded, to take out the distorting effect of the high numbers of people who had previously been held pre-trial on genocide charges).
Of great concern is the fact that pre-trial prisoners constitute such a high proportion of the prison population in so many countries – over 40% of the prison population in much of Africa and many states in southern and western Asia. Also striking is the rapid growth in the numbers of pre-trial prisoners in the Americas, some south eastern Asian countries and Australia and New Zealand.
The biggest positive is that the total European pre-trial prisoner population has fallen by 42% since 2000. In Russia, numbers halved; and they fell substantially in most other former Soviet republics and former socialist countries of central and Eastern Europe. There has also been progress in much of southern and western Europe. I’m heartened to see this, having worked at Fair Trials during the first stages of its European pre-trial justice campaign.
The steady progress being made in so many European countries is testament to the passion of Fair Trials, the Open Society Justice Initiative and the wider network of NGOs and defence practitioners across Europe who are working to end the injustice of excessive pre-trial detention. The report we’ve published today highlights the need for concerted global efforts to address this issue, so I am delighted that Fair Trials has taken its pre-trial justice campaign to an international level.
There is now a new impetus for this work: in 2015, 193 states signed up to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda, which includes a specific target relating to access to justice, a key indicator of which is states’ pre-trial detention rates. This is vital recognition of the harmful effects of pre-trial detention on developing economies. To ensure the most is made of this advance, we need to press national governments to maintain and publish accurate records of how many people are detained pre-trial. Our world prison population lists are only as good as the official statistics we can access. If official data are unavailable, inaccurate, published late or not at all, efforts to raise standards will be compromised.
Pre-trial imprisonment is a major – but preventable – cause of today’s high global prison population, contributing to inhumane, overcrowded prison conditions. The World Prison Research Programme that I direct at ICPR is about understanding what drives states’ use of imprisonment – pre-trial and after conviction and sentence – and about how to reduce imprisonment levels. On 16 March, we’ll be launching a new report: Prison: Evidence of its use and over-use from around the world. This will mark the start of an ambitious and innovative project in which we, Fair Trials and a network of academics, lawyers (some from overseas offices of Clifford Chance), criminal justice practitioners and human rights advocates are joining forces, to conduct an in-depth exploration of imprisonment in ten jurisdictions, across all five continents.
As with all of our guest posts, the views represented are of the author and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials.
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